This post may contain affiliate links. When you purchase through my blog, it helps support the site and enables me to keep creating new content. So, thank you!
Congratulations, you’ve decided to set out on the open road (or open waters) and settle down in a new city or country! It’s a freeing and eye-opening experience, that’s for sure.
While imagining a new life abroad is exhilarating, it might not be as straightforward as spinning a globe and jet setting to wherever your index finger lands. And there’s almost an overwhelming amount of choice. When you’re a digital nomad, you can choose to live almost anywhere. However, it’s never that simple. While it’s fun to visit many other countries, they may not all make a great home for you. And in order to thrive as a digital nomad, you’ve got to pick a country where you’ll be happy actually living.
So with that in mind, here are a few tips to consider when choosing a new home base:
Hola? Guten Morgen? Konichiwa?
Let’s face it, the language of your new country could be make or break your time abroad. Even simple tasks such as finding accommodation, shopping at the market, or getting a taxi could be infinitely more difficult if you don’t speak, read, or understand the language. Although the basic “Hello!”, “Yes, please!” and “Thank you!” can get you by for a short while, adapting to daily life and integrating with the local culture might require more effort. Think about finding a private tutor (costly), taking intensive language classes (less costly), or even finding a tandem language partner (usually free!) once you arrive.
I also love to test out new languages with apps like HiNative, Tandem, and of course, the almighty Duolingo. Pimsleur is another language learning program that rocks because it takes you through a series of “conversations” with locals, where the speaker speaks and then you’re given a chance to respond. You learn how to get around very quickly in a new language.
Bringing Home the Bacon (or Tofu): How to Make Money While Traveling
Unless you happen to be one of the few fortunate souls blessed with a large savings account or inheritance, you’ll most likely be looking for a source of income in your new country. If you want to continue your line or work, or even if you’re starting a new career from scratch, it’s important to consider what type of employment opportunities are available. A stock broker might have a hard time finding employment on a remote island in the Caribbean, just as a freelance Japanese teacher might have difficulty landing consistent work in Iceland. Spending a little time to research what the country offers will only make it easier to snag your dream job in the future. Of course, the best thing is to find work that is completely remote and location independent, which means you can do it from absolutely anywhere.
Looking for the ways to find work abroad? There are most likely tons of job postings on local websites in your country, but I recommend browsing EasyExpat, Indeed, and Upwork to get a glimpse of what type of opportunities are out there!
How Much Can You Cope with Change and Trade-Offs?
I remember moving to Thailand in 2012. I was thrilled to be living abroad and get to experience a new culture up close. However, what I didn’t realize is that Thailand was not the right home for me, as much as I might be fascinated by the culture. Local teaching salaries were around $4 an hour, making it difficult to make enough money to travel around the region. When it would storm, the power would go out for days in my rural Thai village. I would frequent find massive spiders and cockroaches in my kitchen. And after a few months, I quickly missed the comforts and amenities of bigger cities. It was not the right choice for me longer term, as much as I loved getting to know Thai culture while I was there.
What about you? Are you ok with living in a second or third world country and losing out on some amenities in exchange for a different way of living? Could you do it long term? What is a must-have for you? What can you do without? This is a huge difference between traveling somewhere for a shorter amount of time and planning to live there. You’ve got to make sure you’re ok with the tradeoffs.
Keeping it Legal
This brings us to our last and possibly most important factor when it comes to deciding on a new home. Are you actually allowed to stay and work in your new country? For instance, an American can visit the Schengen area (most countries in Europe) for 3 months without a visa, but will need to apply months ahead of time if they want to visit China. After that, becoming an expat and applying for residency also varies by country and can be quite difficult to obtain. Once you have permission to stay in the country for an extended length of time, you’ll need to jump through more hoops to apply for a working visa. I would love to live in Paris, but it’s really hard to pull off logistically for an American. One day, I hope.
Of course it’s not impossible to live in the country of your dreams, but be prepared that its not as easy as jumping off the plane and setting up your new life. You’ll first need to convince the lovely border patrol officers at the airport to let you in! And then you’ll have to find a way to stay. Fall in love with a local, maybe?
Best Cities for Digital Nomads in 2019
Now that we’ve covered the basic factors to choosing a new home, let’s discuss some of the most popular places around the world for expats and digital nomads.
Thailand (Chiang Mai, Bangkok, or Phuket)
If spending free time splashing in the ocean and sipping on tropical drinks sounds up your alley, then Thailand might be the destination for you. Whether your working out of the dozens of co-working spaces in Chang Mai, or teaching English to children in Bangkok, you can count on the low living cost and warm weather in Thailand to make your transition abroad easy. Hostels can be found all over the country, making it easy to meet new friends and test the warm waters before settling down.
Average Cost per Month: $1000 - $1300
Expat Rating Score: 9.5
Europe doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive! Budapest is Hungary’s capital, and one of my favorite places to set up a new life. Not only is Budapest a professional hub for international companies, but it’s also a foodie’s (and drinkie’s) heaven. Indulge in hearty dishes like goulash and enjoy the cheaper-than-water beer after a hard day’s work. Or relax at one of the many thermal baths in walkable distance from the city center. One big perk - English is commonly spoken within the city center!
Average Cost per Month: $1300 - $1500
Expat Rating Score: 7
Argentina (Buenos Aires)
Look down south for one of the highest rated destinations for expats, Buenos Aires! Argentina is a mix of South American and European culture, providing an eclectic variety of architecture, cuisine, and art and on every corner. Rent here can be ridiculously cheap (we’re talking an average of $250/month!), which means you can spend your hard earn bucks visiting the world renowned museums, trendy nightclubs and delicious (steak grills) in Buenos Aires.
Average Cost per Month: $1100 - $1300
Expat Rating Score: 8
Berlin may be one of the more expensive destinations on this list, but it’s a great place to set up a new life if you’re eager to move to Europe. This German capital is on the rise, and international expats (and international companies) from all around the globe have called Berlin their new home. While German is the main language, English is also commonly used in cafes, businesses and hotels throughout the whole city. You’ll be surrounded by artists, entrepreneurs, students, or pretty much anyone who wants to meet new people and make good memories.
Average Cost per Month: $2000
Expat Rating Score: 6.5
You Can Try a Bunch of Countries Before You Decide Where to Live
If you’re still unsure where to plant your feet, don’t worry because there are companies that have your indecisive mind covered. RemoteYear gives traveling professionals the chance to work in a different country each month, so you can sample the world before committing to a certain lifestyle. Organizations such as Plan My Gap Year, Working Abroad, and International Volunteer HQ also offer low-cost volunteer programs that give you a taste of living abroad for a short period of time, while also making a beneficial impact on the local communities.
So we’ve discussed best practices for choosing a new home and learned about some trendy destinations. You’ve picked out where you want to move and told your friends and family, but now what are the next steps?
Mo’ Money, Not Mo’ Problems: Save Money Before You Travel
Life can throw unexpected costs your way, and it’s always best to be prepared before you step foot onto new soil. The cost of moving to a new country itself can be pricey (plane tickets, health insurance, etc), but you should also account for emergency curveballs. Make sure you have a little somethin’ in your savings before you move. You’ll thank your lucky stars that you have some extra change in your pocket when you are taking a 60 Euro cab ride from the airport because the 2 Euro subway has randomly shut down, or even booking an expensive hotel last minute because your temporary housing has bed bugs. Financial preparation is key folks!
Document all the Things!
It’s going to be difficult deciding what valuables and trinkets will accompany you on your journey. The most important items at the top of your list should always be your personal documents! Scan, copy and photograph your passport, your birth certificate, your driver’s license, your medical records and shot records, your college degree certificate - all of it. Setting up residency and applying for visas will most likely require this information, and it’s better to have everything by your side (or stored in the cloud) rather than booking a flight back home to hunt for whatever paperwork you left behind.
Check Yourself: Be Aware of Your Health Before You Leave
Not every country will provide the same level of health standards or practices you might be used to receiving. The language barrier, your type of health insurance, and even local regulations could severely impact any treatment or medications you might need. Get any necessary check-ups, vaccinations, and prescriptions before you move. Make sure you have enough pills, contact lenses, and even over the counter meds like ibuprofen, pepto-bismol, and vitamins to last you until you get settled in your new home.
Open Your Mind and Prepare to Enjoy!
One final piece of advice is to always keep your options, your mind, and your possibilities open.
Leaving your home country to set up life in a new place, even if for a short time, can be a nerve-wrackingly thrilling experience. It might not be easy, you might not know how to speak the language at first, and you may not even make friends for a few months. But you do have courage, because making the decision to move takes GUTS. And with an open mind, your courage has no limits on the experiences that await you. The world is only considered small if we are not aware of what it has to offer, so get out there and explore!
Who Wrote This?
I’m Renee Hyde and I’ve been a digital nomad freelance writer since 2012. So far I’ve visited 60+ countries and counting! On this blog I share tips about dreamy travel destinations, travel hacks, ways to work remotely and travel, and advice for living your best nomadic life!